Come for dinner Thursday night? I’ll make beef pie.

Excellent. I’ll bring the wine.

So was the text exchange between us and one of our oldest friends last week. Those who have been reading for long will know him as ‘Chef’ from our shared trip to El Bulli (five years on and it’s still one of those ‘pinch me, did that really happen?’ moments). He’s also now the proud owner of Sly;  one of Sydney’s best cafes- a spot where the coffee is sublime and they make some of the best toasted sandwiches in this hemisphere.

At the time of messaging spring had technically sprung,  but we were still courting the closing days of winter in Sydney. From the trenches of a battle over breakfast with a tiny tyrant I had a vision; the windows of the dining room and kitchen slightly fogged from the heat of the oven. A steaming pie, stuffed with braised beef and a tangle of just-wilted kale. And red wine.

All of the Duplo was going back in the cupboard. The high chair was going in the corner of the dining room. The smallest one was going to seamlessly go to sleep.

Dessert was going to be molten, flourless chocolate, peanut butter and banana puddings with creme fraiche.

Except on Thursday morning, I woke to this.

Oh Sydney. You are a supermodel of a city sometimes. As Will and I skittled about in the sunshine on Manly Beach and played in a sand pit that was of a proportion he approved of, I realised I couldn’t possibly sit down to beef pie ( insert necessary quip about #firstworldproblems here).

It would be wrong. It would be like Punxsutawney Phil coming out of his cave and actively wishing for weeks more of winter. This sort of sunshine needs to be celebrated.  So I sidelined the braise and we stopped off at the market on the way home. That night, while the air smelled like jasmine and enroute to his bath I found three tablespoons of sand secreted away in the tips of Will’s sneakers we sat down to my version of  bouillabaisse; blistered tomatoes, fennel, onion and garlic, blitzed together and warmed with a good pinch of saffron and some passata. To that I add 1 kg of mixed seafood- a combination of mussels, squid, white and pink fish fillet, some prawns and a good clattering of clams. The seafood was quickly poached in the simmering broth along with a drained tin of chickpeas. We ate it with aiolli and a cascade of chopped parsley from the garden. Dessert was a twist on the Clementine Tarta di Santiago from Cut the Carbs. I swapped in blood orange rind and segments and we ate the sticky slices of almond cake with splodges of creme fraiche.

Will went to bed on time. The Duplo was back in the cupboard. I drank a Campari on ice and possibly one too many glasses of Misha’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc with dinner.

It was sublime.

Meanwhile, the completed braised beef sat quietly in tupperware in the fridge, like a bridesmaid just waiting to be asked out to dance.

As it turns out, despite my courting efforts towards summer, Friday turned grey again. The wind had a sharper edge. Rather than being relegated to the depths of the freezer, the beef’s time had come.

Braised beef, kale, red wine and a movie at home on the couch while rain clattered on the roof.  It too was perfect, in its own sort of way. And lucky for everyone, this is a stew that if anything, improves after a few days of rest.

It seems the universe is looking out for us after all.

Nb, you’ll see below that there are intentionally two types of beef in this braise. Beef cheek is a wonderful cut-over time it relaxes and softens into luxurious threads of meat- yet I find that by pairing it with chuck, which holds its integrity a little more over time you get the perfect combination of yielding and robust. This contrast allows you to appreciate the individual merits of both even more. There are a few other tips and tricks to this recipe; don’t skip the anchovies, even if you think you despise them. They will dissolve into the sauce, giving a savoury flavour that you can’t quite put your finger on. Meanwhile the chilli adds a slight spring to its step (though feel free to leave it out if you are serving this to very sensitive small people). Much of the flavour here is coming from getting a good sear on your beef, so don’t scrimp on this step. Lastly,  the kale is best added right at the end- if you add it too early it can discolour and give up hope. What you want is a refreshing, slightly bitter tangle of greens mixed through which negates the need for a salad on the side. Either eat it as is, with white bean puree or cauliflower puree as a base, or lash out and transform it into a pie by draping puff pastry over the top (tomato sauce; optional).

Braised Beef with Kale

Serves 4-6 with pureed white beans, or as a pie.

Shopping/foraging

2 tbsp olive oil
500 g beef cheek, trimmed of sinew and diced into pieces the size of a matchbook
500 g chuck steak, diced into pieces the size of a matchbook
2 brown onions, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
3 anchovies, finely diced
1 tbsp rosemary, finely diced
Pinch of chilli flakes
1 cup/250 ml robust red wine
2 large handfuls of kale, roughly shredded

Here’s how we roll

1) Add half of the olive oil to the bottom of a Dutch oven, or heavy based sautee pan on a high heat. Brown half of the meat, for 1- 2 minutes on each side.. You want to do this in batches, so as not to crowd the pan too much. You need to get a good bronzed sear on all sides of the meat. This is the basis of much of the flavour in this braise.

2) Set aside and repeat with the remaining half of the meat. If the pan is too dry, add the remaining olive oil.

3) While the meat is searing, prepare your onion, carrot, celery, garlic, anchovies and rosemary.

4) Remove all of the meat from the pan, turn down the heat to medium and add the onion, carrot and celery. Sautee for 5-7 minutes, until the onion is softened.

5) Add the anchovies, garlic, chilli and rosemary and sautee for another 2 minutes, scraping at the bottom of the pan to try and recover any crusted bits (that’s where so much flavour is hiding).

6) Return the meat and any juices that have seeped out to the pan. Stir, then pour in the wine, still scraping at the bottom of the pan to recover any flavour that’s still hanging on.

7) Bring the wine to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and clamp on the lid.  Alternatively, at this point you can transfer everything to a slow cooker and cook on low all day (though you may have to cook with the lid off for the last hour to help reduce the sauce).

8) Cook with the lid on, on low (there should be a gentle occasional blurble in the liquid, but no vigorous bubbles) for 4-5 hours. The longer you cook it, the softer the meat will become.

9) After 4 hours, check the meat. It should be forkingly soft and there should be just enough liquid to comprise a loose gravy. If it seems soupy, then cook for 20-30 minutes with the lid off. This will keep, as is in the fridge for 2-3 days quite happily. If anything, the flavours will deepen over time.

10) Prior to serving, top  the hot braise with the shredded kale, keep it on a medium heat and return the lid. Cook for 5 minutes so the kale wilts. Alternatively pile the raw kale on top of the braise, top with puffed pastry, glaze with egg and create two slits to let the steam out. Place in a hot oven (200 C/392F) for 25 minutes to bake, until the pastry is puffed and the pie is piping hot.

11) Serve as is, or with pureed white beans, or mushy peas. And a glass of red wine.